Dr. Anthony Fauci received a worried message from a Bill Gates adviser and offered his support to a Chinese health official toward the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, newly released emails show.
Hundreds of pages of Fauci’s emails have been revealed under the Freedom of Information Act. They show the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) dealing with a variety of queries and issues.
BuzzFeed News obtained more than 3,200 pages of emails that have been made available online, while The Washington Post received more than 860 pages, some of which are also available to read.
Here are five of the biggest takeaways from the emails.
1. A Bill Gates adviser was worried about Fauci’s health
Fauci spoke to Microsoft founder Bill Gates on the phone on April 1, 2020, saying he was “enthusiastic about moving forward on a collaborative and hopefully synergistic approach to COVID-19.”
After the call, a senior executive at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Emilio Emini, who was in charge of coordination on a COVID vaccine, emailed Fauci worrying about his health.
“I see you on TV almost every day, and although you continue to have considerable energy, I am seriously worried about you,” Emini said. “The nation and the world absolutely need your leadership.”
Fauci wrote back at 1.53 a.m. to say: “I will try to engage as much as I can given my current circumstances.”
2. Fauci offered support to a Chinese health official
On March 28, 2020, Fauci received an email from George Gao, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Gao had given an interview to Science magazine saying the U.S. and other western nations were making a “big mistake” by not telling people to wear masks.
“I saw the Science interview, how could I say such a word ‘big mistake’ about others? That was journalist’s wording. Hope you understand,” Gao wrote to Fauci.
“Lets work together to get the virus out of the earth,” he said.
Fauci replied: “I understand completely. No problem.” He added: “We will get through this together.”
3. Experts worried that COVID-19 could ‘look engineered’
On January 31, 2020, Kristian G. Andersen, director of the Scripps Research Institute, wrote to Fauci to say that some of the SARS-CoV-2’s features “(potentially) look engineered.”
Andersen noted that the “unusual features” of the virus made up “a really small part” of its genome.
“We have a good team lined up to look very critically at this, so we should know much more at the end of the weekend,” he wrote as part of a chain of emails.
“I should mention that after discussions earlier today, Eddie, Bob, Mike, and myself all find the genome inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory,” Andersen said. “But we have to look at this much more closely and there are still further analyses to be done, so those opinions could still change.”
Andersen and his team subsequently published an article in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Medicine where they wrote that they did not “believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.”
However, the article noted that more scientific data “could swing the balance of evidence to favor one hypothesis over another.”
4. Fauci said that store-bought masks are ‘not really effective’
In an email on February 5, 2020, Fauci advised against wearing masks and said that face masks bought in a store would not be effective at protecting against the virus. He was replying to queries from one Sylvia Burwell, who may be to the same Sylvia Burwell who served as secretary for health and human services from 2014 to 2017.
“Masks are really for infected people to prevent them from spreading infection to people who are not infected rather than protecting uninfected people from acquiring infection,” Fauci wrote.
“The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through material. It might, however, provide some slight benefit in keep out gross droplets if someone coughs or sneezes on you.”
“I do not recommend that you wear a mask, particularly since you are going to a very low risk location,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance on mask-wearing in April 2020 and strongly recommended face coverings. Fauci’s email was sent before this advice and he backed the CDC recommendations once they were introduced.
5. Fauci was uncomfortable with people’s fascination with him
During the pandemic, Fauci became a figure of much public attention and enjoyed a popular image that led to articles, memes and even merchandise. He wasn’t very comfortable with the attention.
A colleague at the National Institutes of Health sent him a link to a Washington Post article on March 31, 2020 headlined “Fauci socks, Fauci doughnuts, Fauci fan art: The coronavirus expert attracts a cult following.”
“Truly surrealistic. Hopefully, this all stops soon,” Fauci wrote in reply. He later added: “It is not at all pleasant, that is for sure.”
Fauci sent an article from a Google News alert in an email on April 7 headlined “Cuomo Crush and ‘Fauci Fever’ — Sexualization of These Men Is a Real Thing on the Internet.”
“It will blow your mind,” Fauci wrote. “Our society is really totally nuts.”
Newsweek has asked the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for comment.
Newsweek, in partnership with NewsGuard, is dedicated to providing accurate and verifiable vaccine and health information. With NewsGuard’s HealthGuard browser extension, users can verify if a website is a trustworthy source of health information. Visit the Newsweek VaxFacts website to learn more and to download the HealthGuard browser extension.